What Food Do You Choose?

What’s your food practice, and why?

Traditionally, Jews are The People Who Don’t Eat Pork. The Philistines, who were of Greek origin, commented upon it. Antiochus, a Greek king, thought it bizarre. The Romans thought it just one more bit of evidence that we were crazy. And after the Expulsion from Spain in 1492, a refusal to eat pork became the hallmark of “Judaizing” and became grounds for torture and execution.

Not Eating Pork became the hallmark Jewish food practice, even for Jews who did not embrace the full practice of kashrut. Kashrut is a complex topic but the short version is that only certain animals may be eaten, those animals must be slaughtered and cooked in an approved fashion, and meat and milk must be kept strictly separated. Observing kashrut is often referred to as “keeping kosher.”

Many 21st century Jews keep kosher. Some observe those commandments more stringently, some less. Some choose not to observe the traditional laws at all. Some choose to eat pork. Some do not. Some Jews only practice traditional dietary laws to some extent during Passover or holidays.

For many 21st century Jews, another pressing issue is food ethics:

  • Will I consume animal products?
  • If so, what are the minimum standards for how those animals are treated?
  • How do my food choices affect the human beings who produce food?
  • How do my food choices affect the ecosystems in which they grow and are processed?
  • What about food scarcity for others in my area?
  • What about food waste?
  • How do my choices about consumption affect my health and that of my family?

Any time we address a question of food ethics, we must recognize that much of our decision making is about trade-offs. For instance, food that is ethically sourced and ethically produced (and fresh, nutritious, etc.) is more expensive. So then we add to the questions:

  • What can I afford?
  • What am I willing to do for those who cannot afford this food?

A person might decide to forego the free-range eggs in order to donate those funds to the food bank. That’s their choice, and their way of addressing the trade-off. Someone with a lot of discretionary income may choose to do both. And someone who is trying to feed their family on very low income may get eggs from caged hens and that’s how it is. No one with more income has any right to pass judgment on the person for whom worry about ethical food choices is an unaffordable luxury.

There are a number of Jewish organizations exploring these issues and looking at ways to move towards a more ethical practice of Jewish eating. My Jewish Learning has provided a great article on the subject by Shmuly Yanklowitz.

Finally, what else am I willing to do to address ethical issues and food? Learn about the issues? Lobby elected officials for better regulations? Volunteer at the food bank? Join a Jewish group (maybe a congregation’s social action committee) to study up on these issues?

So, what are your food practices, and how to they stem from your reading of Torah? Do you keep some level of kashrut? Do you fast on Yom Kippur? What do you choose to eat, or not eat, out of ethical or ecological concerns? And most importantly: why???

 

Vegan Vegetable Soup

I’ve been learning about vegan cooking. Many of my guests are vegetarian or vegan, so I find that it is helpful to have a few simple recipes for main dishes at the ready. However, a dish had better be tasty dishes, or my carnivorous family will turn up their noses!

This soup is on my stove right now, as I write. It’s very easy to make and quite delicious:

4 cups vegetable broth (I use ready-made)
26 0z canned tomato (pureed, sauce, doesn’t really matter)
2 medium onions
1 bunch celery, including the tops!
olive oil
2 russet potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
4-6 carrots, cut into quarter-inch rounds
1 cup chopped collards or other greens
Any leftover vegetables on hand
Pepper sauce (optional)
Ground pepper (optional)
Salt (on table, optional)

  1. Put  vegetable broth and tomato in soup pot over low heat.
  2. Chop onions and celery, soften in a skillet over low heat in olive oil.
  3. Add onions and celery plus any oil remaining to the pot.
  4. Add other vegetables to the pot.
  5. Cook over low heat for 1 hour after assembled.
  6. Serve with pepper sauce on the table, also salt and pepper. Let folks add what they want.
  7. Serve with good bread.

This can serve as many as 10, depending on how hungry everyone is and what else is on the table. Folks who want spicy soup can add lots of pepper sauce, folks who prefer mild can eat as is.

This is a good soup for freezing for later or for giving to friends who need some soup.

For a graceful way to gift food to someone who has a hard time accepting “charity” or a gift, check out More Hospitality: “I cooked too much food!”

 

Vegans at My Shabbos Table

Complete Shabbat Table

Tomorrow night a group of my students are coming for Shabbat dinner. I love having them over, and I generally serve a vegetarian meal with some vegan options, because it seems most of my students are vegetarians these days.

Fifteen years ago, I remember arranging Shabbat dinners for Intro students at local congregations, and we always served the same menu: challah, wine, grape juice, salad, roast chicken, and a light dessert. Obviously that one isn’t going to work for my current group!

Nowadays I hold the dinner as a potluck. I provide main dishes, challah, and wine, and they bring salads, sides or desserts. I always have some dark chocolate squirreled away to supplement the desserts. I’ve gradually settled on a couple of main dishes that seem to please, one lacto-vegetarian, and one vegan: mac and cheese (comfort food for many people) and a nice quinoa and bean salad for the vegans. I make the quinoa dish the night before, so there’s less to do on Friday.

What are your favorite dairy, vegetarian, and vegan options for Shabbat? Any recipes to share?

A reader commented via twitter that it would have been nice for me to give the recipes – true enough! If you click on the links, it will take you to the recipes I use. That reminds me: I invite any readers who are on twitter to follow me there @CoffeeShopRabbi.